Dear friends and colleagues,
I am writing to update you on recent conversations that I have had over the past two weeks with synodical leaders, Area Ministry Deans, rostered ministers and congregational leaders across the territory of our synod to discuss our experiences in resuming in-person worship. These conversations have been rich and fruitful and I am grateful for the insights, learnings, questions and concerns that have been put forward and would like to share some of those with you.
I was not surprised to hear that there is no “one size fits all model.” By my estimation, approximately 60% of our congregations have begun to convene in-person worship gatherings of one kind or another. Others plan to resume in the next few weeks, next month or even in the New Year. Some, in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, have altered their plans and have decided to cease in-person worship or delay their proposed start dates due to recent case count increases in some regional jurisdictions. This is both understandable and commendable. The public health situation continues to be fluid and all of us need to be prepared to make or even change plans based on present realities in our respective contexts.
Presently, the synod has encouraged congregations across the synod to consider themselves to be in the amber stage of preparedness for in-person worship. Remember that this does not mean that “all must”, but rather, that “all may.” These decisions need to be made in full consideration of local realities.
Some of you have asked about a possible return to a red stage should the current situation become much worse. While I do not anticipate circumstances that would warrant a synod-wide return to the red stage wherein we would recommend the cessation of all in-person worship, I do recognize that it may become necessary for such decisions to be made locally, in a particular region or municipality.
Given that reality, I feel compelled to again encourage all of our congregations to establish a leadership/monitoring team to carefully monitor and evaluate our lived experience of in-person worship, to monitor public health realities in your community and to recommend appropriate adjustments moving forward. In doing so, such teams will want to give consideration to a number of factors.
- A strict monitoring of and compliance with provincial and regional health authority directives
- An ongoing assessment of a congregation’s capacity to safely administer necessary protocols related to in-person worship that adhere to required Public Health regulations and defined congregational procedures
- A careful monitoring of significant changes to regional case counts and hospitalizations as well as an increase in the incidence of outbreaks in long term and health care facilities, schools or in the wider community.
Please know that members of the task force are available and eager to assist in your consideration and to consult with you regarding your specific circumstances at any time. Please direct any such inquiries to Pastor Adam Snook, Assistant to the Bishop firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond quickly.
I would again also remind you of the need for rostered leaders and congregational councils to work closely together in making decisions regarding the pattern and practice for in-person worship. I particularly want us to avoid situations where rostered leaders might feel compelled to lead worship in an environment that they considered to be unsafe. We need to support our rostered leaders particularly now as they seek to navigate the challenges of leading in-person worship while also continuing to provide alternative worship experiences for those not gathering physically.
In order to help lighten the burden, in mid-November our synod’s Task Force on the Resumption of In-Person worship will be making additional worship resources available to support your Advent and Christmas in-person and on-line worship experiences. We will also convene another round of synod-wide zoom conversations for rostered and congregational leaders so we might continue to share our experiences and maintain connection with one another. Finally, the ELCIC Bishops will be providing a series of video and text sermons available for your use throughout the season of Epiphany.
Dear brothers and sisters, I continue to be very proud of the very fine work that you are doing to ensure that the work of ministry continues to be engaged through the life of our church. I recognize that this is a challenging time for us. Some of us are frightened. Many of us are anxious. And all of us are simply tired of this pandemic and the continued impact it is having on our lives.
Hang in there! Continue to be gracious, kind and patient with one another. And always remember that God is good, faithful, alive and well in the life of our world and in the life of our church. Fear not! We will get through this!